Insect Discovery and Breeding as Tools for Sustainable Solutions to Organic Waste Management

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2018: $24,942.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2019
Grant Recipient: University of California - Davis
Region: Western
State: California
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Christian Nansen
University of California, Davis


  • Agronomic: sugarbeets
  • Fruits: citrus, grapes
  • Nuts: almonds, pistachios, walnuts
  • Vegetables: carrots, onions, tomatoes


  • Animal Production: feed formulation, livestock breeding
  • Energy: byproduct utilization
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    We will demonstrate how insect discovery and selective breeding can increase sustainable solid  waste management  practices.  Specifically,  we  will(1)“mine” insect  species diversity for new candidate bio-converters, (2) selectively breed high performance strains, and (3) characterize the potential for feeding poultry insects reared on different agricultural wastes. A major outcome from this project will be increased insight into which insect species and improved strains should be used for bio-conversion based on the nutritional and physical composition of a given organic waste material.

    California  produces  over  400  crops,  which  in  turn  yield  many  more  “organic  waste residues” during downstream processing, such as fruit and vegetable pulp from juice industries. Some of these organic waste residues are used as substrate for mushroom production, compost, or as filler in animal feed. However, large portions end up in landfills and are considered a problem rather than an economic opportunity. As decomposers and herbivores, the diversity  of  insect species includes groups highly specialized in their ability to thrive on different organic substrates, and some of these substrates resemble waste residues from food processing industries. Crickets, cockroaches,  soldier flies,  bottle  flies,  and  mealworms  represent  the  most  widely  referenced species  in  studies  of  organic  waste  conversion. We  argue  that  both  insect  discovery  (testing  of more  species)  and  selective  breeding are  needed  to  further  advance  the  potential  of  insects  as converters of organic waste materials. We have preliminary data clearly suggesting that within a species, individuals show marked range in “adaptation” (measured as growth rate, nutrition uptake and therefore rate of bioconversion) when reared on specific organic waste materials. Such range in adaptation underscores the potential of selective breeding, and the overall project hypothesis is  that  we  will  identify  and  selectively  breed  specific  species  with  significantly  higher adaptation than strains of insects that are currently available commercially.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Identify new species  for  organic  waste  residue conversion,  with  specific  focus  on rapid development,  nutrition,  high  conversion  ratios,  easy  extraction  of  insect  body  mass,  and conversion of recalcitrant residues (those high in tannins or phenolics).  (Year 1; October 2017-January 2017)
    2. Determine the composition  and  feed  potential  of  insect  biomass  following  rearing  on different performing diet regimes. (Year 1 & 2; February 2018-July 2019)
    3. Establish improved lineages  using  applied  evolutionary  techniques,  with  target  goals  of increased body mass, development time, or fecundity. Improved lineages performance in these traits will exceed that of their initial populations. (Year 1 & 2; January 2018-July 2019)
    4. Work together with  growers,  extension  specialists,  and  researchers  cooperating  in  this project to disseminate findings and recommendations through newsletters, and symposia, and publications.(Year 1 & 2; August 2017 –July 2019)
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.